Killary Harbour and the U-Boat Bollocks

Jul 26, 2017

During the Second World War, as the Battle of the Atlantic raged, ships would often seek shelter in the coves and inlets along the West Coast of Ireland.

On one such occasion, a ferocious storm forced both a British Submarine and a German U-boat to abandon whatever military engagement they were involved in and seek shelter in the neutral waters of Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord, in the heart of Connemara.

For several hours, there they were, two heavily-armed and mortal enemies, moored-up side-by-side, in a monumental Mexican stand-off.

A local Garda witnessed the whole thing, but adhering to the old Irish axiom of “say nothing to no one”, said nothing to no one, lest he cause an international incident.

Eventually, after the storm had passed, both ships quietly parted company at the mouth of the harbour, to go on and fight another day…

Killary Fjord

The fjord was formed millions of years ago by glaciers and forms a natural border between counties Galway and Mayo, flanked by Mweelrea, Connacht’s highest peak, to the north and the 12 Bens and Maamturk mountain ranges to the south. It’s 16km long and over 45m deep – perfect for imaginary submarines…

As much as I love this story, it is, unfortunately, a load of bollocks.

Firstly it doesn’t add up: Why was the local Garda out (presumably on his bicycle) in a storm so fierce that it forced two gargantuan naval vessels into shelter, except maybe to provide the narrator with a credible witness? Why didn’t the captains radio for assistance to engage after leaving the fjord, rather than tiptoeing off in different directions? And why did the submarines need to take shelter from a storm in the first place – they’re submarines!

As much as I love this story, it is, unfortunately, a load of bollocks.

Firstly it doesn’t add up: why was the local Garda out (presumably on his bicycle) in a storm so fierce that it forced two gargantuan naval vessels into shelter, except maybe to provide the narrator with a credible witness? Why didn’t the captains radio for assistance to engage after leaving the fjord, rather than tiptoeing off in different directions? And why did the submarines need to take shelter from a storm in the first place – they’re submarines!

Killary Fjord

The fjord was formed millions of years ago by glaciers and forms a natural border between counties Galway and Mayo, flanked by Mweelrea, Connacht’s highest peak, to the north and the 12 Bens and Maamturk mountain ranges to the south. It’s 16km long and over 45m deep – perfect for imaginary submarines…

The only actual documented account of a U-boat landing in Ireland during WW2 was that of U-35, which dropped off 28 Greek seamen in Ventry Harbour on the Dingle Peninsular on 4th October 1939, after their ship, the Diamantis, had been torpedoed.

Pretty decent of them, you might think, until you discover it was U-35 that torpedoed the poor buggers in the first place.

A few days later, Life magazine ran this unscheduled Irish stopover as their cover story. A bit embarrassing for Ireland given its neutrality, but more so because it gave plausibility to the profusion of other U-boat stories which now emerged all along the West Coast.

When is a Fjord not a Fjord?

When it’s a Fjard!

Fjords and fjards are essentiatially the same thing. Fjords however are defined as being narrower, surrounded by steeper hills or cliffs, although there is no clear definition of how steep these hills should be.

So is Killary Harbour a Fjard or a Fjord?

Well it depends how inclined you are…

The only actual documented account of a U-boat landing in Ireland during WW2 was that of U35, which dropped off 28 Greek seamen in Ventry Harbour on the Dingle Peninsular on 4th October 1939, after their ship, the Diamantis, had been torpedoed.

Pretty decent of them, you might think, until you discover it was U35 that torpedoed them in the first place.

A few days later, Life magazine ran this unscheduled Irish stopover as their cover story. A bit embarrassing for Ireland given its neutrality, but more so because it gave plausibility to the profusion of other U-boat stories which now emerged all along the West Coast.

After much research however, historian and respected journalist Robert Fisk concluded that most of these subs ‘had been seen in pubs’, most likely the provenance for the Killary Harbour U-boat, but, hey, why let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good story…

When is a Fjord not a Fjord?

When it’s a Fjard!

Fjords and fjards are essentiatially the same thing. Fjords however are defined as being narrower, and surrounded by steeper hills or cliffs, although there is no clear definition of how steep these hills should be.

So is Killary Harbour a Fjard or a Fjord?

Well it depends how inclined you are…

After much research however, historian and respected journalist Robert Fisk concluded that most of these subs ‘had been seen in pubs’, most likely the provenance for the Killary Harbour U-boat, but, hey, why let a little thing like the truth get in the way of a good story…

Killary Harbour

Killary Harbour

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